8th March 2021
#IWD2021 | Freedom in impermanence.
After a year of restrictions and constraints, ideas around ‘freedom’ drift into my consciousness often – what it means to me, to what extent I need to be free and how I can move closer to my ideal state of mind and being?
4 years ago, I was living and working as an architect in London, arguably more constrained then than I have felt from the restrictions this past year. Fast forward a year, and I had left that job to set off on a tour around Europe on my new bokeh - 3 years ago today getting hammered by hailstorms in Albania. I was just beginning to get a taste for what real freedom felt like having abandoned many of the 'shoulds' in my life back home - these dictated decision making, created states of inertia, and had mostly steered my path till then. This trip also allowed me to confront many of my limiting fears - wild camping being one, which filled me with nerves, hindering my ability to travel in a free and easy way. I wasn’t afraid because I genuinely believed the world was full of psychopaths with a sixth sense for a lone woman sleeping in a tent – it was because this fear ‘to be afraid’ and ‘to not be alone’ had been instilled in me over the years as a woman, evidenced by the frequently asked question ‘ but aren’t you afraid of sleeping alone in the woods???’ and thankfully now I can say ‘no’, because on the whole this is where I feel safest.
That trip, and subsequent ones significantly changed my view of the world and how I could pick my way through it. I felt empowered to look after myself and my bike – a growing confidence in my capabilities and trust in myself and instincts. I would not be overstating it to say that the humble bicycle has played a key part in who I’ve felt able to become these past few years. Bicycles have always been associated with freedom, from the rush a child experiences when they realise they can propel themselves into their ever-expanding worlds, to women in the suffrage movement centuries ago. With the quote below from Susan B Anthony - a woman's right activist - seems as relevant today as in 1896…
I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.
3 years have passed since that trip and I have tried to keep the ‘shoulds’ at bay, making choices in life which make sense to who I am not a version of who I think I should be. I don’t want to be harnessed by a mortgage or be owned by a bank - do work which doesn’t fulfil me in order to sustain a lifestyle I don’t need to feel content. I want to meander through life, choosing paths that look exciting and interesting, avoiding those well travelled routes designed to hurry me through a life less lived.
Trust in my instincts buoyed by experiences on my bike have spurred me on - what tools do I have at my disposal to allow for a life of ill-advised adventure and bike bummery? I needed somewhere to live, a base to return to, that didn’t require a 40-hour week or work I didn’t believe in to sustain. So, I spent much of the pandemic designing and building the ‘battyemobile’– a cabanavan on wheels measuring a modest 6 x 2.5m. A timber framed structure with ‘demountable’ roof and wings lined in sheep’s wool and canvas – arguably yes, a little bit like a big tent. But critically a modest shelter to retreat into - my ticket to freedom rather than a weight around my neck.
The cabanavan encompasses many ‘lessons from the road’, like you really don’t need much ‘stuff’ or space to exist and be - if you have the storage/packing space you’ll fill it, if you don’t you won’t. Unnecessary stuff definitely weighs me down. There is a deep seated feeling of contentment to be ‘in’ the elements rather than an environment created to shut them out. As the wind whips around and under the canvas, the cabin lilts like a boat, and the mornings are delightfully bracing until the wood burner roars kicking out heat. The neighbourly birds provide an ever earlier alarm, synced with the rising of the sun and promise of spring.
It is early days, so who knows what the future holds – perhaps I’ll grow tired of the north easterly whispering across my nose as I sleep. But for now, I hope that life in an impermanent shelter - where the orientation, light and views can change - can assimilate a touch of what one experiences when travelling by bike. That tapping into our nomadic ancestry; to wake in new places with renewed perspectives full of wonder and what ifs – that is what freedom means to me. Life is fleeting, filled with uncertainty and untrammelled possibility waiting to be tapped into – and this is where I hope to spend more of my time.